The UnOfficial Christian Newsletter for September 8, 2004.
|The following edition was written by jmaranez:
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In this Edition:
Letter from the Editor
Bible Study: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
Music and Books
Links to Check Out!
Prayer Requests & Answers
Welcome to another edition of the UCN!
We are here to serve God, and serve our Community of Believers. Each of us desires to be instruments of God’s handiwork. We each have something that God has put on our hearts to teach, and to preach the Good News of The Gospel - always lifting Him up!
Expect Him to meet your needs. With His anointing, we pray that the Holy Spirit has His way in our lives. In this newsletter, may the Word not succumb to a watering down, or to the teaching of a social gospel. We care nothing for political correctness - we care about scriptural correctness!
Letter from the Editor
On behalf of the Editorial Team:
grandmapenny , and
Greetings! Thank you to all those who provided feedback on the last edition of the Newsletter. It was a great encouragement . We are hoping to publish the UCN on a more regular basis (fortnightly), so please feel free to send in your suggestions for inclusion!
And now straight to the Newsletter! Don't forget to grab a drink, a snack and to have an open heart to God's gentle leading .
God bless, your sister in Christ,
Bible Study: Ecclesiastes 3:1-15
The following is a Bible Study on Ecclesiastes 3:1-15. In my experience, I have found that this passage (as with many other passages in Ecclesiastes) is overlooked in the pulpit in favour of more familiar stories and teachings. It is good to review well-known passages of Scripture for there is always something new to learn, but let's also challenge ourselves to go beyond the 'familiar' and pay as much attention to those passages and books in the Bible that seem 'minor' and/or 'difficult'.
" All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness." 2 Timothy 3:16
Form & Structure
Ecclesiastes 3:1-15 falls within the first unit (Chapters 1-4:16) of the Book of Ecclesiastes, which can be classified as a reflection of the author (known as Qoheleth) that everything is ephemeral and unreliable. The passage itself has one outstanding theme - 'time' and can be broken down into two units.
The first unit (vv1-8) is a poem on times and seasons. An introductory statement (v1) is followed by 14 pairs of opposites (vv2-8) set out in rhythmical form. The poem covers the spectrum of human activity and gives the poem a ring pattern and closed structure. The second unit begins with a question (v9), which recalls 1:3. The remainder of the second unit (v9-15) then comprises comments or reflections in response to the question found in v9.
v1. For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
This verse simply means that everything and every activity has its appointed time. This verse acts as an introduction to the poem that follows vv2-8. The poem particularises the scope of ‘everything’ and ‘every activity’. The verse speaks of the best (opportune) or proper times as determined by God.
v2. a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
The poem on time (vv2-8) unravels in descriptive rather than prescriptive form. This verse encompasses a life cycle, acknowledging that there is an appointed time for one to be born and to die. Both of these lie outside the sphere of human control. ‘To plant’ and ‘to uproot’ can be understood as metaphors for life and death.
v3. a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
The activities are described exclusive of moral judgement. ‘To heal’ can be considered as the opposite to killing in the sense that healing preserves life whereas killing destroys it. The second phrase is loosely related to the first and speaks of the destruction and construction of property.
v4. a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
Emotions, though uncontrollable in some situations, have their proper time. As with v3, the first halves of the two phrases are negative (i.e. weeping and mourning), as compared to the second halves of the two phrases, which are positive (i.e. laughing and dancing).
v5. a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
The first phrase of this verse has various interpretations. One interpretation is simply the demolishing of stones belonging to a building, contrasted with the gathering of stones for rebuilding. Another interpretation is to understand the throwing of stones as a military action of rendering fields useless, as contrasted with the gathering of stones to make a field ready for agriculture. An economic interpretation involves the use of stones or pebbles for trading and/or looking after one’s own flock.
However, unlike the pattern found in vv2-5, the preceding interpretations do not relate the first phrase to the second phrase. Therefore, another interpretation is that the casting and gathering of stones are symbols of sexual relations and abstinence. This theme of intimacy is then carried into the second phrase (time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing.
v6. a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
The focus is possession of an object. There are times when an object must be sought and when it must be given up as lost. In the same vein, there is a proper time to keep an object, and there is also a proper time to throw it away.
v7. a time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
The context here is mourning, referring to the Hebrew custom of tearing clothes as a sign of grief and then to repair them when the period of grief is over. In the same way, one would keep silent during grief but then return to speaking once the mourning had passed. Further, knowing when to speak and when to refrain from speaking is an important theme within the wisdom tradition literature (see the Book of Proverbs).
v8. a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace
Strong personal emotions are addressed followed by public and social displays. As with v2, the verse is purely descriptive rather than prescriptive and no moral judgement is made on any of the themes in the verse.
v9. What gain has the worker from his toil?
In connecting the question with the poem found in vv2-8, this verse questions the value of human labour in a world divinely ordered and controlled.
This can be seen as a negative rhetorical question. For example you could view the verse as denial of any advantage to humans through toil; as a judgement on human activity achieving no profit; and as meaning that there is no purpose to doing anything.
v10. I have seen the business that God has given to the sons of men to be busy with.
Again this verse can be read as having a negative connotation based on an understanding of v9. The 'task' can be understood as human toil or the 'frenetic activity' described in vv2-8. The 'task' is seen to keep humans busy and active, yet according to v9, it will yield no advantage or profit. Therefore the negative reading is that the 'task' is not given to people but afflicted onto them.
The optimistic reading of this verse is to view the 'task' in a more positive light - it is the matter of living responsibly in a world of divine ordering.
v11. He has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man's mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
If both vv9-10 were negative, then it appears that Qoheleth now seeks to qualify and correct the impression that he has given. 'Beautiful' can be interpreted as right, rather than an aesthetic judgement of beauty. Therefore the first part of the verse suggests that God's ordering and undertaking of events occurs at the right time.
The understanding of 'eternity' is less clear. It has been interpreted in 3 major ways: 1) Eternity as a new dimension of time - transcending time as humans know it; 2) Knowledge of the world; and 3) Ignorance or darkness.
In any case, Qoheleth is understood as expressing frustration that God has set 'eternity' in human hearts yet it does not contribute in any way to a better understanding of God's ways from beginning to end, or helping humankind understand whether their activities are undertaken at the right time as determined by God. With reference to v9, it can be argued that the human inability to fathom God's ways and His timing result in the vanity of toil.
Again, the verse does not necessarily have to be understood as Qoheleth’s complaint - that is, it does not have to have a negative connotation. Rather the verse can be read as the simple recognition by Qoheleth of the limitations that are placed upon the human understanding of divine activity.
v12 & v13. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; also that it is God's gift to man that every one should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil.
Given that God and His ways can never be truly known or fathomed in whole to humanity, Qoheleth advises the reader to no longer pursue such knowledge and instead, enjoy life. To enjoy life is defined within the bounds of eating, drinking and labour.
Yet Qoheleth makes it clear that even in such instances, the ability to enjoy life is the gift of God - God must permit for the enjoyment to occur. Again whether this divine permission is seen as negative or positive will depend upon how one interprets the attitude of Qoheleth from v9 and his use of the poem in vv2-8.
v14. I know that whatever God does endures for ever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has made it so, in order that men should fear before him.
The formulaic expression on adding and subtracting in v14b hearkens back to Deut 4:1-2, and 13:1.
As before, there is debate as to whether this verse is based upon an attitude of resignation or hope. On one hand it can be argued that Qoheleth is continuing to express frustration - he recognises that humans cannot change God's plan or their situation - they must simply 'put up with it'.
On the other hand it is possible to believe that the emphasis of this verse is having a right attitude towards God given that we will never really understand His ways nor can change His plans. It is an attitude of reverence and awe rather than terror - an acknowledgment by humanity that they and their Creator are essentially different.
It is interesting that the book of Ecclesiastes should follow the book of Proverbs in the Old Testament. In reading Proverbs, there is the very real danger of reducing God and His activity to a formula such as the widely quoted Prov 3:5-6, and therefore leaving us with an impression that God can be manipulated. That is, if I do A and B, then God will do C.
What Qoheleth brings to the fore is the reality of human life under the sovereignty of God. His reflections bring a much needed balance to the sayings found in Proverbs, and in their stark honesty and simplicity divide interpreters as to whether Qoheleth's statements are optimistic or pessimistic.
It must be noted that these perceptions of positivity or negativity are categories imposed by the interpreters. Indeed, in vv9-14, Qoheleth's comments are clearly made with frustration and dissatisfaction, yet his comments in v11a, and vv12-13 provide qualification and display glimpses of the knowledge of God's goodness. It is an example of the 'yes-but' arguments that are used throughout the book of Ecclesiastes.
It is evident that Qoheleth is wrestling with the contradictions and inconsistencies humans face daily in life, one of which is the understanding that God orders times and events and although we have some idea of there being a 'bigger picture', we will never truly perceive or comprehend it or why things happen as they do and when they do.
It is an essential part of 'faith seeking understanding' in a world where guidelines have been provided (such as in Proverbs) but where God's sovereignty overrules (as illustrated in Job). We must view our circumstances through the eyes of faith and respond to this life anchored in Him. Otherwise the seas of uncertainty and doubt will drown us. What then becomes crucial is not the vain and endless pursuit to understand all that is and why it is, but how one responds to the reality of life he or she is faced with each day.
Whatever the season or time of life, do you respond in faith or in fear?
Set aside some time to reflect on this passage in the next week or challenge yourself to seek out a passage that you have never read before and ask God to speak to you through that passage.
When peace like a river attendeth my way.
When sorrow like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot Thou hast taught me to say,
"It is well, it is well, with my soul".
- Horatio D. Spafford
Music and Books
Got a Christian Artist or CD, or Book that God has used to touch your heart? Why not share it here? Just send the Editorial Team details of your recommendation and a blurb (50 words or less) on how it has blessed you.
Mommy4Life recommends "reading anything by John Townsend and Henry Cloud. These two men have been given such blessed insight into people. They love Christ. They are straight-forward, yet loving. I've been to classes based on their videos and a seminar. It will change your life if you allow it."
Check out the Cloud-Townsend Resources website at http://drhenrycloud.com/
Wanting to expand your Christian Music collection but not sure where to begin? Follow this link to find reviewed Christian Music
Links To Check Out!
In this edition, we'll focus on faith. There are many items on Writing.com about faith as we Christians understand it. These are only a few - please take some time to R&R these and to search out all the other professions of Christian faith on Writing.com!.
Prayer Requests & Answers
Please do not hesitate to send your prayer requests to the Editorial Team so that it can be included in this Newsletter - we are here to pray for one another! In the same way, please let us know if you believe God has answered prayer requests that you have shared with us - we all can be built up in Christ with your answered prayer!
Please continue to pray for those affected by Hurricane Frances in Florida, including tawnycatfl, as they begin the clean-up and come to grips with what the Hurricane has left behind. Please also pray for tawnycatfl as she faces challenging circumstances in her life, that God may continue to be her portion and strength, and that she may find true peace in Him.
Please pray for Mindy, the daughter of lilamom. She was in ER on Friday, 27th August, but has since returned home and is recovering. However, lilamom has not received the test results or an explanation for Mindy's illness. Please pray for her complete recovery, enlightment upon the medical team, and strength for the family.
We give thanks to God for the continued recovery of mysoftheart. She is now back at home in recovery mode. If you want to send her message or just get an update, see "Invalid Item" .
On a macro-scale, please continue to remember the following in your prayers:
The tragedy in Beslan, Russia. Pray for the families who have lost their children and relatives. Pray for the children who are recovering in hospital. Pray for Russia as a whole - that Revival will occur and many will turn to God.
The ongoing debate on Abortion laws, not just in the US but all over the world. Christians must protect the unborn. Why not share God's view of abortion here:
Upcoming Government elections in the US and other parts of the world - we may not agree with their politics but we are called to pray for our nation's leaders.
Unofficial Christian Newsletter Links
Thank you for taking the time to read through another edition of the UCN. We hope that you have been challenged, blessed and inspired! Please do not hesitate to provide feedback or raise questions on the content of this Newsletter.
Shine on and write on!